The Final Stretch

The Final Stretch

By Allyus Fritz

October is finally around the corner. The air is crisper, the races are tighter, and the crack of the bat is sweeter. With just a week remaining in the regular season, it’s time for the final stretch.

This edition of the stretch will focus on the year as a whole.

The American League

Red Sox

This year’s Red Sox team is a new batch of knuckleheads. Boston was at it’s best when Johnny Damon and the other misfits were unshaven and had something to prove. This year’s Sox team fits the mold. Mike Napoli, David Ross, and Johnny Gomes, with their obscene beards and mounds of tattoos, seem to be at the core of Boston’s clubhouse revival.

David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are having excellent seasons are having excellent seasons, but have not gotten any MVP consideration because of the out of this world performances by Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera. Ortiz is on the cusp of another 30 home run, 100 RBI seasons while also batting above .300. Pedrioa is just being himself. He’s average is hovering around .300 and it looks like he will barely miss reaching 200 hits and 100 RBI’s for the season.

Maybe the biggest reason for Boston’s turnaround this season is pitching. John Lackey, who last year was a shell of his former self, has a 3.44 ERA. Jon Lester has 15 wins and has eaten up innings. Clay Buchholz has 1.60 ERA when he’s has been healthy.

Koji Uehara has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. In 72.1 innings he has posted a 1.12 ERA and given up a remarkable 32 hits.

Imagine where they could be if Buchholz wasn’t injured for half the season and could have started 30 games instead of 15.

Texas Rangers

Texas has been riding the struggle bus in September. Coming in to Monday, the Rangers are an agonizing 5-15 in September. After two straight seasons of losing in the World Series, they now have to endure their second straight September collapse. It looks to me that Texas’ spirit is officially broken.

Biggest Surprise: New York Yankees

The New York Yankees are still in contention. This would normally not be surprising. With the injuries New York has endured this season, it’s actually amazing that it will still finish with a winning record. The disabled list in the Bronx is a once upon a time All-Star team. Players who have had stints on the DL are Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner, C.C. Sabathia, Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis… I’m tired. The organization’s money allowed them to pick up players like Mark Reynolds and Alfonso Soriano to stay in contention.

I see no reason why the Yankees won’t be back to being the Bronx Bombers next season.

Biggest Disappointment: Los Angeles Angels

Yuck. If the baseball gods were to take away Mike Trout’s Demigodness and C.J. Wilson’s second half performance, this team would barely be above the Houston Astros in the AL West. There was a time when a team batting Pujols third and Hamilton cleanup would have destroyed the competition. Apparently, that time has passed. Let’s wait and see if the Angels’ brass throws more money at their problems this offseason.

What to Watch For: Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera’s lingering injury issues could sabotage the Detroit Tigers’ chances of making another World Series. He has not been completely healthy for some time, and it will be interesting to see if his performance has diminished. Detroit will likely play Oakland again. The Athletics could very easily choke the Tigers into the second round, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Cy Young: Yu Darvish

There are many deserving choices out of the AL. I’m choosing Darvish because this is the season that he finally proved his worth. Darvish has been good in the past, but not like this. His 260 strikeouts lead baseball. He is fourth in the AL in ERA and fourth in WHIP. Opponents are batting .193 against him, which is first in the AL. Darvish has taken at least three no hitters into the seventh inning.

Darvish validated his contract by having a dominating season. He should be rewarded.

MVP: Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera is far and away the best hitter in baseball. He can crush pitches in and out of the strike zone, gopher balls and pitcher’s pitches alike. You all have probably heard more than enough about the greatest hitter in baseball, so I’ll move on.

Honorable Mention: 2. Mike Trout, No. 3 Chris Davis

The National League

The Central Race

This will go down to the very last day of the season. I believe the St. Louis Cardinals are the team in the most trouble. Pittsburgh has magic and Cincinnati has dominant pitching. What does St. Louis have besides important injuries? St. Louis’ lack of power and punch will hurt come playoff time. The loss of Allen Craig could be the ultimate killer.

Adam Wainwright may be the key behind how far the Cardinals go. If he isn’t the No. 1 type starter that he was earlier this season, St. Louis won’t have the starting pitching to match up with anyone in the NL. Joe Kelly will likely be the number two starter. Where does St. Louis go from there? Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn have both been extremely inconsistent of late.

I still think St. Louis will win the division, but a long playoff run may not be in the Cards.

Biggest Surprise: The Pittsburgh Pirates

This was obviously the easy answer. Last season, Pittsburgh had high expectations only to swoon after the All-Star break and fail yet again to finish with a winning record. This season the Pirates not only kept winning, but also the organization actually made moves to try and improve their chances of winning! This hasn’t happened in 20 years. Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd at the very least add veteran leadership to a young club.

Biggest Disappointment: The Washington Nationals

Maybe the Nationals and the Angels are my biggest disappointments because I picked them to clash in the World Series. With that embarrassing fact out in the open, let’s continue on.

Injuries sabotaged Washington’s season. The list goes on and on. Stephen Strasburg was unable to be the ace pitcher that the Nationals needed in order to contend. The hot streak that Washington has been on looks to have come just a little too late.

What to Watch for: Allen Craig and Dodger injury issues; Dodger outfield

Allen Craig’s ability to drive in runners in scoring position will be missed by the Cardinals. He needs to come back as quickly as possible. That’s as complicated as I can make that statement.

Los Angeles needs to make the World Series so all the money that they have locked up in the outfield can actually play because of the DH. Andrew Ethier looks to be the odd man out. Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig will likely never leave the lineup. Matt Kemp may be replaced for Ethier if he has poor numbers against a RHP. It remains to be seen if all the money spent by Magic Johnson and company will result in a title.

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw is the clear winner in the NL. Kershaw is leading in the following categories: strikeouts, ERA, WHIP and shutouts. He is second in opponent’s batting average. Kershaw’s curveball is absolutely devastating. As Tony Gonzalez would say, the choice is clear.

MVP: Andrew McCutchen

McCutchen is the cog that makes Pittsburgh go. His numbers don’t blow you away. The simple fact of the matter is that he is the best player on the most interesting team in baseball. He hits third and is a wizard in centerfield. This is the year the MVP trophy goes back to Pittsburgh.

Honorable Mention: 2. Matt Carpenter, 3. (tie) Yadier Molina and Paul Goldschmidt

The Not So Early Whatsoever Playoff Scenario

AL Wild Card Game: Cleveland at Tampa Bay

4. WC vs. 1. Boston Red Sox

3. Detroit Tigers at 2. Oakland Athletics

NL Wild Card Game: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

4. WC vs. 1. Atlanta Braves

3. Los Angeles Dodgers vs. 2. St. Louis Cardinals

Final Predictions

Last month my World Series prediction was the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Tampa Bay Rays in six games. As I feared, I now am eating my words and changing my prediction. I’m kicking the Rangers out because they’re ice cold and frankly the playoffs look more interesting without Texas in the mix. The Braves and Tigers are already in the tournament, so there’s no need for a third team that we all know will choke and not win it all.

American League

Wild Card Game: Cleveland at Tampa Bay

1. Boston Red Sox over Tampa Bay Rays in 5

3. Detroit Tigers over Oakland Athletics in 4

ALCS: Boston Red Sox over Detroit Tigers in 6

National League

Wild Card Game: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds (Reds win)

4. Cincinnati Reds over 1. Atlanta Braves in 5

2. Los Angeles Dodgers over 3. St. Louis Cardinals in 4 (If it goes five games the Cardinals win. St. Louis is simply too clutch. But the Dodgers are cold now. Oh my God how do I decide?).

NLCS: Cincinnati Reds over Los Angeles Dodgers in 6 games

World Series: Cincinnati Reds over Boston Red Sox in 7

Final Thoughts

Here are some questions to ponder in the offseason:

What if Chris Davis is on steroids and ruined Miguel Cabrera’s triple-crown chances?

Will Ryan Braun be welcomed back? Or will he be thought of as a villain for the rest of his career?

What will this year be known for? Biogenesis, Pittsburgh, injuries, beards?

Sit back and enjoy the finish of another year of baseball. I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

P.S.  Goodbye Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera

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